Billionaire Trump donor Nelson Peltz says he talks to Joe Manchin every week

“Joe is the most important guy in D.C., maybe the most important guy in America today,” says billionaire investor

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 21, 2021 12:52PM (EDT)

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) listens during a committee meeting on Capitol Hill on October 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) listens during a committee meeting on Capitol Hill on October 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Billionaire Trump donor Nelson Peltz said on Wednesday that he has weekly phone calls with Sen. Joe Manchin, the "centrist" West Virginia Democrat who is seeking to drastically slash President Biden's Build Back Better plan.

Peltz, who donated more than $180,000 to former President Donald Trump's campaign and inaugural committee, and also hosted a $10 million fundraiser for him last year, praised Manchin during a CNBC interview for the senator's role in pushing to cut Biden's $3.5 trillion proposal by more than half and opposing what the billionaire described as "socialism."

"Manchin is showing them the way and they are fighting him. But I got to take my hat off to Joe, who's been an old friend of mine for 10 years," Peltz said. "I call him every week and say, 'Joe, you're doing great. Stay tough. Stay tough, buddy.' He is phenomenal."

Peltz, a billionaire investor at Trian Partners and an executive at Wendy's, the Sysco Corporation and Procter & Gamble, applauded Manchin for "keeping our elected officials somewhere in the middle."

"Joe is the most important guy in D.C., maybe the most important guy in America today," he said.

RELATED: Joe Manchin says rumors he plans to leave Democratic party are "bulls***"

Peltz, who praised Trump last year as "amazing" on economic policy, apologized for voting for Trump following the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"I didn't vote for Trump in '16. I voted for him in this past election in November. Today, I'm sorry I did that," he told CNBC a day after the attack.

Manchin has been criticized by members of his own party for his close ties to billionaires and industry lobbyists as he pushes to cut climate programs and other key Democratic priorities from Biden's $3.5 trillion proposal, which he wants to shrink to $1.5 trillion. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last month accused Manchin of holding "weekly huddles" with Exxon and allowing lobbyists to "write so-called 'bipartisan' fossil fuel bills." Manchin denied the claim but said he keeps his "door open for everybody."

A secret video obtained by Greenpeace earlier this year showed an Exxon lobbyist discussing his close relationship with Manchin while discussing the company's strategy to kill Biden's climate proposals in the Build Back Better plan.

"Joe Manchin, I talk to his office every week," the lobbyist bragged.

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Manchin, who personally owns millions in coal stocks, raised $1.6 million last quarter, including more than $400,000 from the oil and gas industry, even though he is not up for re-election until 2024.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who is also pushing to cut Biden's proposal, has also come under fire for repeatedly meeting with donors opposed to the plan while avoiding meeting with her constituents.

Sinema flew to Europe last week to attend multiple fundraising events and earlier this month left Washington amid budget negotiations to fly back to Arizona, where she attended a swanky donor "retreat" at a high-end resort and spa, according to the New York Times. The first-term senator last month held a fundraiser with five business groups opposed to the Biden bill, charging up to $5,800 to attend the 45-minute event.

Sinema has frustrated Democrats because some of her key demands are at odds with Manchin's. While Manchin supports a proposal to let Medicare negotiate lower drug costs to raise money to pay for health care expansion plans, Sinema, who has raised more than $750,000 from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, opposes the proposal.

And while Manchin has signaled support for partly rolling back some of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, Sinema recently told lobbyists that she is opposed to "any increases" in tax rates for corporations, investors and top earners, according to The Wall Street Journal.

While Sinema has come under fire from activists, who are now pushing for a progressive primary challenger, her position has been a financial boon.

Sinema raised more than $1.1 million last quarter even though, like Manchin, she won't face another election for three years. That fundraising haul included at least $100,000 from the pharmaceutical industry and a private equity firm that owns a large stake in the pharmaceutical space, according to the Daily Poster. The outlet previously reported that a dark money group that has received $4.5 million from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a powerful industry lobby, has launched an ad campaign praising Sinema.

Democrats are trying to find ways to pay for their proposals while agreeing to Sinema's demands, but there appears to be no obvious way to do that. The prescription drug bill is projected to raise $450 billion in revenue over the next decade and Biden's proposed tax hikes on corporations, the wealthy and capital gains are projected to raise about $840 billion. Some Democrats have floated a carbon tax as a way to address revenue needs and replace climate policies cut from the legislation to appease Manchin. But the West Virginia senator shot that idea down, even while demanding that Democrats raise enough revenue to pay for all of the package.

"So, like where the hell is the overlap?" a frustrated Biden ally told Politico last week, saying of Manchin and Sinema: "If you just took their currently presented red lines you wouldn't have enough left to get this past progressives in the House and Senate. It wouldn't raise enough money and it wouldn't do enough big programs."

Read more about the intra-party Democratic battle over Biden's agenda:

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

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Aggregation Big Donors Build Back Better Donald Trump Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Nelson Peltz Politics